The Renaissance. A time of rebirth, of new artistic innovations and genius creations, a time where the most famous artists were in their prime. Although I am an avid art and history buff, I did not know much about this time period save the few things I’d read in historical novels. But, I didn’t have to worry – I had three fabulous professors that shared with me everything I needed to know to fully understand the art I’d see on my journey.
The theme of our class was perspective. This artistic technique really took off during the Renaissance, whether being shown through intuitive, linear, or atmospheric perspective. It was a way to make art seem realistic – painting and sculpture suddenly had depth, had human appearances, had an emotional response that wasn’t shown before. Sculpture work hearkened back to classical times, showing nudes and contropposto stances of its figures, reimagining the importance of creating realistic figures. Perspective was also present here, especially in figures that were placed upward on buildings and churches – the artists had to make them appear as realistic as possible. In the center of all this early Renaissance thinking were three amazing artists: Masaccio, the painter; Donatello, the sculptor; and Brunelleschi, the architect and math man whose innovations to this day are still marveled at by art historians and tourists alike.
I was, of course, excited to see the Duomo. It looked so beautiful, so imposing, in pictures that I quite honestly couldn’t imagine what it would look like in person. Before we left, I was excited to see the works by Brunelleschi the most – there was something about his mathematically sound creations that appealed to my brain and the sense of order held there. But beyond the art, I was excited to try every bit of food I could get my hands on – hello, Nutella gelato! – and sample the famous wines. I was also excited to see what shopping Italy had to offer. I had spent hours before leaving compiling an extensive list of where I wanted to shop, what I wanted to buy, and what gifts I planned on bringing home. I dug up old Italian-to-English dictionaries from my grandparents’ basements and tried (unsuccessfully) to teach myself the entire language. Really, I could have prepared for years, all for naught. I didn’t seem to realize that one of the greatest things about traveling is being ready to expect the unexpected. You can’t prepare yourself for what you’re going to see and do. But more on that later. At this point in the story, I was still a scared college sophomore whose only worry was making it through 10 total hours in a plane, a huge phobia of mine.
Surprisingly, though, I didn’t have to worry. The flight to JFK was calm and quick, and boarding the plane to Italy was no sweat. Before I knew it, I was passed out completely, and when I awoke, we were over the Italian landscape. I quickly put on Dean Martin’s “An Evening in Roma” (I know, I’m clichéd) and stared at the green rolling hills and small villas surrounding the landscape. It almost looked like another planet to me – I had looked at landscapes from a plane before, but this one was so green and bright, even with the overcast sky. There were beautiful animals in fields, groves of what I could tell were olives and grapes, and tiny people wandering through the landscape as if in a dream world. Suddenly, I was brought from my dreaming as I felt the plane’s wheels touch down to the ground.
Let the adventure begin.
We whirled through the Rome airport, jetlagged and trying to change our clothes and freshen up quickly so we could start our day in a foreign country. So far, nothing seemed that much different. We got our passports stamped and I didn’t even bat an eye. I was anxious to get to my new experiences though, so when we saw Dr. Aronson’s familiar face in the crowd, I eagerly ran to meet her and to start our week.
We met an assistant from the Rome campus, Kelsey, and before I knew it we were off on our own coach bus to go to the Angelus at the Vatican with Pope Francis. Now, side note – this was one of the events on our itinerary I was most excited for. I’m a pretty faithful person, and I follow the Catholic faith pretty closely. Pope Francis is one of my favorite people. He’s such an open person and he’s very willing to help people, but he’s also not a strict traditionalist, and I love how accessible he is (yes, I follow him on Instagram). The bus dropped us off and suddenly I was walking on a Roman street, listening to the unfamiliar sounds of a new country. And that’s when I heard it.
It was a strong voice, a voice I was surprised to note wasn’t fragile or weak, speaking melodically in Italian. It was a voice I had only heard vaguely on TV or in videos. I immediately started tearing up. I wasn’t even in Vatican City yet, and I was listening to Pope Francis say mass.
I was broken from my feeling of awe when we had to go through multiple security measures to get into Vatican City. The jarring feeling reminded me once more – I’m not in the US anymore. This is a sacred place, where a sacred person lives, and they must protect it at all costs. My mind immediately flashed to the terror attacks in Paris months earlier – I understood that the security guards, body scanners, and large men with big guns were there to keep us safe, but I still experienced a distinct sense of fear I never had before. I think this was my first opportunity where I felt like I pulled inward and didn’t want to engage; I was scared. As the week went on, however, I was greatful for the military presence in Italy. I felt safe in a country I had never visited and didn’t understand fully knowing there were people everywhere to protect me. But, in that moment, I was really surprised to experience something I had never even imagined.
The feeling of fear quickly fled once I stepped foot into the circle of Vatican City. I was shocked at the sheer number of people – there were thousands, pressed together, all looking to the window of the Pope’s rooms in awed silence as he said mass. Some clutched rosaries in prayer; others openly cried; others still took pictures quickly, immortalizing their moments with the Holy Father of the Catholic Church. Everyone in our group, still groggy from jet lag, looked around in awe as well, taking pictures and taking in the sights.
I was slightly disappointed I didn’t get to see the Pope any closer – he was saying mass from the window of his apartments. It was kind of crazy actually, he looked like a little doll set up in the window, he was so far away. Even though I could hear him, and see him move a little, I expected we would get closer to him before we arrived.
Still, I couldn’t be fully upset – I will always cherish the memory of getting to say the Hail Mary in Latin with him!
And then suddenly, as soon as it started, it was over. I would find throughout the week that that was to be a common theme – things moving quickly. But, what I took away from that was to simply live in the moment. You’re never going to get this time back again, so why not enjoy it while you can? Why not create amazing, fully realized memories, taking in the sounds, the smells, the sights, the feelings, everything associated with this magical moment in life? I learned so much about being mindful in every experience, and I’m going to take that through the rest of my life.